It’s hard to think about what your personality is. One way of describing it is that it is the collection of reactions, thoughts, behaviours and feelings that differentiates us and defines who we are. The people who know you best will describe you as loud or quiet or friendly, or creative or practical, or driven or laid-back and these descriptions will come from seeing certain patterns or preferences in the things you say and do. Those patterns are your personality.
While some of our traits are genetic we are not born with our personality ready-made and fully formed. It develops over years as a response to our circumstances and experiences. Right from the minute we are born our experiences of being cared for (and sometimes not) begins to shape our personality. The way we are looked after, the bonds we form with our primary caregivers, begin to set the patterns of how we relate to others. If there is no consistency, or some occasional chaos, in the way you are cared for, or if there is a traumatic event in your childhood this can change the formation of personality. If for example, you experience neglect or abuse as a child it can cause a significant change in personality.
The term Personality Disorder is used about people who have difficulties in reacting to others and who find it hard to cope with stressful situations. It is estimated that around 1 in 20 people in the UK meet the diagnostic criteria for Personality Disorder, so it is quite a common mental health problem. Most of those 1 in 20 will have mild symptoms that only manifest when they are stressed. Others may experience the symptoms more frequently and need to seek help; fewer still will have been referred to a psychiatrist and diagnosed as having Personality Disorder.
Here are some experiences you might recognise if you have a disordered personality:
- You don’t always feel in control of your emotions
- You are quick to anger, and often feel that you have a ‘volcanic’ rage within and it doesn’t take much to set it off
- It is especially hard for you to trust: either in yourself or others
- Other people see some of your responses as highly emotional, disproportionate, unpredictable, volatile and extreme
- You find it really stressful and difficult to form connections and build relationships
- You are often impulsive and have difficulty thinking things through
- There is a fear or expectation that other people will be hostile or betray you
- You often have a sense of a void or emptiness or feel that you are disconnected from the world
- Sometimes you prefer to be on you own and can be perceived as cold towards others
- You frequently find life unfair, have a strong sense of injustice and feel that other people, sometimes the whole world, are out to get you
- You can find it so difficult to cope with certain events, especially if you feel overlooked abandoned by someone, that you ‘act out’ those emotions often in quite a dramatic way
What can you do about it if you have Personality Disorder?
All of the difficulties above are responses to early trauma or neglect which, can be triggered by something – usually a loss or a feeling of abandonment – in your present day-to-day life. This can make it feel as though every day is a struggle, but there are some things you can do to make it feel a little easier.
Make it Personal
There are lots of different types of personality disorder — Borderline, Narcissistic, Dependant, Antisocial Personality Disorder, etc. It is not particularly helpful to have a diagnosis or label but it can be truly helpful to figure out what your Personality Disorder is to you. It is on a spectrum so how much of the time are you affected by it? How does it affect you? And when does it affect you? You are an individual and Personality Disorder affects you in an individual way, when you begin to work out the shape of it a bit you can begin to break it down, deal with it in separate parts and not be so overwhelmed by it.
Information is Power
Find out as much as you can about Personality Disorders from your doctor, anyone else you know who has it, books or all the online health resources. Understanding the disorder and how it affects you can make it much easier to understand and deal with.
Spread the info
Encourage your friends and your family to learn about personality disorders so they can understand what it is, and why you sometimes behave or react to things in the way that you do.
No need to hide away
Your temptation might be to keep this yourself and be afraid to tell people, but if you do open up about it you will find that people either understand already or that they do want to know about it, and you will begin to build up a great support system.
Don’t let it define you
It is possible to think that your personality is just “you” or all of you, but personality disorder is only a part of you. You are not your illness. The diagnosis is just a label for the cluster of symptoms you experience. You are still you. If you can keep that perspective, you will realise that you can control it once you have understood it a little more.
Learn to “reality check”
When you feel in distress or are feeling overwhelmed stop and think: what is going on here? Why am I feeling this? Try to identify the emotion, and then try to work out why you have it: does whatever just happened justify this reaction? Or has something been triggered which has activated the emotion from somewhere in your past?
Many people with Personality Disorder talk about how powerful and helpful it can be just to know that they are not alone with this and that other people have these issues too.
Talk to someone
It can be really hard to reach out especially when you are not feeling well, but it can really help to share difficult thoughts.
Reach for a journal or sketchbook
Writing, drawing, scribbling, doodling, getting your thoughts and ideas out on paper in any you like will help you to clear your head. A mood diary can help you to assess what is going on, spot things early and make it feel a little less overwhelming.
Find some safe things that enable you to get rid of the feelings you have without being overwhelmed by them (or giving them to others). So for example if you feel very angry you could rip up some scrap paper or thump a pillow or listen to some head-banging heavy metal. Or if you are feeling lost or sad write a supportive letter to yourself or cuddle up in your favourite blanket and watch Friends (or a favourite TV show). Or if it is anxiety pick a mindfulness activity such as breathing exercises or making yourself a warm drink that you sip very slowly.
Have a plan
As time goes on and you learn more about how Personality Disorder affects you, you might see that when you are affected by it it’s hard to ask for help or identify what you need. So it could be a good idea to plan ahead and let people know what things trigger you and which things might help you. That way they can be there for you in the way that helps you most.
Look after yourself
Try to sleep enough, eat well, and take exercise. It wounds obvious but all of these things will help you to regulate your emotions and feel better in yourself.
If you need support right now, call 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected] and the reception staff will book an appointment with one of our trained therapists. We have centres in Clapham and Tooting.